Elsevier Excitement: Not an Oxymoron

January 16, 2019

Professional publishing – the information designed for lawyers, accountants, scientists, technologists, and their ilk – is usually a quiet place. Notice that I did not say, “Dull.”

Now one of the leaders in this small club of gatekeepers has evidenced some actual management excitement at least here in Harrod’s Creek.

According to Inside Higher Education:

The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-owned Journal of Informetrics resigned Thursday in protest over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work. Today, the same team is launching a new fully open-access journal called Quantitative Science Studies.

Most of the folks outside the STEM world of publishing are unaware that many professional publishers rely on a very reliable business model. Some of its features include:

  1. Work with august academic institutions to make sure the paper based “publish or perish” model is required for anything close to a tenure track or a jump in pay
  2. Charge the authors for various things. Remember. The authors have to publish in esteemed journals which are in theory reviewed by hard working peers. The idea is to make sure those fudged data are identified and stopped before the vetted paper is published. Non reproducible results? Let’s not talk about those.
  3. Charge the academic institutions with the tenure track and aspiring scholars to subscribe to these peer reviewed journals.
  4. Recycle the content in different ways to generate downstream revenue from online databases and services.
  5. Work with vendors who create digital or microfilm versions of the older versions of the publications to generate royalties.

Most of these methods are little known and only partially understood by individuals who don’t pay much attention to a $2,000 for four issues paper publication.

Now the revolt is indeed exciting. The write up does the normal journalism thing. The good stuff is the business model, the somewhat generous money generating mechanisms from which the authors and the institutions are excluded, and the fact that scholarly information is only available to those with the money to pay for these documents.

Is this the beginning of the end for Elsevier-type outfits and their close cousins, the Reed Elsevier type outfits?

To me this is an interesting question.

Stephen E Arnold, January 16, 2019

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